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Case Study: Friction And No-Friction

Case Study: Friction And No-Friction

| On 10, Mar 2019

Darrell Mann

Anyone that follows me on Twitter may have noticed that I’m not very good at following other people. It’s nothing personal, just that my brain is not capable of tuning in to fast moving streams of information/noise. That plus the fact that I restrict myself to a maximum of 20 minutes of Twitter-time a day, so what I skim through has to have some kind of focus to it. Occasionally I get to witness the five-second arguments that have a habit of flaring up when individuals get the wrong end of someone else’s stick. Or, the ones that intrigue me, when two ‘right’s turn into a conflict. Right-versus-right contradictions offer us the opportunity to make the most progress. Even if the two sides of the story can’t see it for themselves.

That’s what happened recently when Margaret Heffernan (author of Wilful Blindness – one of our previous Best Of The Month recommendations) picked up on a Tweet from John Maeda. Taken together, these two esteemed figures have close to half a million followers between them, so clearly lots of people think they have something interesting to say. I don’t know what any of those half million thought of the spat – reproduced above – but for me it immediately sparked one of those right-versus-right moments. Pity that neither of them could apparently see it, and so their argument fizzled out into the usual sense of stuck’ness that tends to signify people who don’t understand TRIZ, or the importance of revealing and then resolving contradictions.

The Heffernan-Maeda (or should that be ‘Heffernan-Penney’ since all Maeda was actually doing was re-quoting an old JC Penney quote) contradiction centred around friction. One that, from a TRIZ perspective, could be mapped something like this:

It’s funny how smart people can so easily find themselves falling into pointless either-or arguments. Probably sometimes because the ‘or’ part of the story is invisible or implied. As it was in this case. Most people don’t have a well trained either-or radar because most people don’t understand that such situations are the gateway to breakthrough solutions.

From a TRIZ perspective the parallel need for both friction and no-friction in the business context is the key to progress. Penney was right. And so was Heffernan. They both could have been ‘righter’ if they’d recognized that the other wasn’t wrong. What we have here is a classic physical contradiction. And, moreover, one that is pretty much solved by the time the Bubble Map has been drawn. It’s a separation in time problem. Sometimes it’s beneficial to have friction within and around a team, and sometimes it isn’t. The key to an actual best-of-both-worlds solution is to know the appropriate context for each side of the contradiction. Friction is really useful when we’re in the fuzzy-front-end confusion and conceptualization of new ideas; friction is really not needed when everyone has decided what we’re going to do and we just need to get on and do it.

It might look simple from a TRIZ perspective. The real problem here, perhaps, is being surrounded by really smart people who don’t know when they’ve found progress gold-dust. It’s the contradiction, stupid.